How do beta-blockers work to treat high blood pressure (BP)?

A beta-blocker is a medication that lowers the heart rate which reduces the force of heart muscle contractions, thereby lowering blood pressure.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Beta blockers are sometimes prescribed with other medications to control blood pressure. They have extra benefits for people with coronary artery disease or heart failure. These drugs work by blocking receptors for adrenaline (epinephrine) and other stress hormones in the heart and blood vessels. This lowers blood pressure and heart rate.

Many beta blockers are available in the US for treating high blood pressure. These include acebutolol (Sectral), atenolol (Tenormin), betaxolol, bisoprolol (Zebeta), carvedilol (Coreg), labetalol, metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), nebivolol (Bystolic), penbutolol (Levatol), pindolol, propranolol (Inderal, Innopran), and timolol. Other products combine a beta blocker in a single pill with a diuretic (Corzide, Dutoprol, Inderide, Lopressor HCT Tenoretic, Ziac), or an ARB (Byvalson). 

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Beta-blockers reduce your heart rate and, therefore, your heart's output of blood. You should not be on one of these drugs if you already have a low heart rate or an airway disease such as asthma or peripheral vascular disease. Beta blockers can also mask hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, so you should use with caution if you have diabetes and take insulin or sulfonylurea drugs.

Common side effects of beta blockers include fatigue, breathlessness, depression and cold hands and feet. Other, milder side effects can include sleep problems and numbness or tingling of the toes, fingers or scalp.

On the plus side, beta blockers can reduce your risk for second heart attack, irregular heartbeat, angina and migraines.

Some commonly prescribed drugs in this class include atenolol (Tenormin), betaxolol (Kerlone), bisoprolol (Zebeta), carteolol (Cartrol), insoAcebutolol (Sectral), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL), nadolol (Corgard), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace) and timolol (Blocadren).

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